DID YOU READ

“Innocence,” “Drunken Angel”

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By Michael Atkinson

IFC News

[Photo: “Innocence,” Leisure Time Features/Homevision, 2005]

A semi-secret, anxiety-cranked daydream movie released briefly to a few American cities in 2005, and one of the most original French films of the decade, Lucile Hadzihalilovic’s “Innocence” (2004) is pure code, metaphor and mystery, and at the same it’s seethingly tangible. Derived from a (currently) untranslated Frank Wedekind story, and pulsing with conceptual potency, the movie feels genuinely sui generis, a verdant, ambiguous reverie on childhood, consciousness and oppression. It’s all parable, all the time, a Rorschach-blot scenario played out in feminized Old World ritual: we’re in a vast tract of European forest, disarmingly illuminated by chandelier lamps, subgrounded with what seems to be an ancient, rumbling sewer system and surrounded by an unscalable wall. At the center lies a huge girls’ school, populated by only two teachers (Hélène de Fougerolles and “La Vie en Rose”‘s Marion Cotillard) and a dozen or so prepubescent girls, each wearing age-coded hair ribbons, new students arriving in suddenly materialized coffins and with fading memories of their families and lives outside. There are no men, and many rules. The school maintains a nurturing, if constricting, cloistered atmosphere, but there are glimpses of matters — disappearances, deaths, violations — we, like the students, never fully understand. The girls, gently examined, indoctrinated and trained in matters of traditional girlishness, are being certainly being groomed, but for what?

A debut filmmaker with electrifying confidence, Hadzihalilovic cat-plays with our instant sense of dread — unanswered narrative questions are supposed to have horrifying answers, right? — but “Innocence” has a more sophisticated program than you might suspect from her credits as Gaspar Noé’s producer and editor (and girlfriend?). The mysteries at the film’s pitiful heart aren’t sexual, but then again, they are: Wedekind always worked in lurid metaphoric colors, and “Innocence” is nothing if not a fable of puberty told not as awakening but as subjugation. Call it the feminist flipside to Jean Vigo’s “Zéro de Conduite,” where revolt is not a condoned option (a single escapee is far from heroic, dropping into the unknown woods over the wall, never to be seen again), and Wedekind’s anti-bourgeois take on the “tragedy of sex” prevails. In its view of childhood as totalitarian citizenship, Hadzihalilovic’s film stands, quietly, in a gender-furious class by itself.

At the same time, the particularities are intensely imagined and naturalistic, and its symbology is as subterranean as you’d like to dig. Rich as a fruitcake in its Romantic tableaux (photographed, lushly, by Benoît Debie), the movie is not merely ironically titled — like David Lynch’s films, its heart bleeds for the systematic death of purity while never idealizing the young. Shun critics who fail to respond to this lovely puzzle, or those for whom it conjures only thoughts of pedophilia. (Like A.O. Scott in the Times, for whom the movie limned a fine line “between cinematic art and exploitation,” and like one New York Film Critics Circle member — alright, Leah Rozen — who dismissed it as a film only for those interested in “little girls in panties,” this said less than an hour after Rozen argued that documentary features aren’t “films” in the context of giving out a “Best First Film” award, in this case to Bennett Miller, whose first feature was not “Capote” but “The Cruise.” Never mind that “Innocence” is a First Film achievement unrivaled in recent memory.)

Illiteracy and small-mindedness are everywhere, of course, which is why if The Criterion Collection didn’t exist, we would have to invent it. This month they’ve exhumed Akira Kurosawa’s first true career-maker, “Drunken Angel” (1948), a rarely seen classic of the Japanese postwar era, which is distinctive in world cinema as out-noiring noir — no American film from the time can approach the savage metaphors, raging desperation and hopeless squalor expressed in the modern-day films of Kurosawa, Ichikawa, Suzuki, Masumura, Oshima, Imamura, et al. “Drunken Angel” is something of a chamber piece: the setting is a clutch of hovels and shops huddled around a giant sump, which bubbles toxically and into which ripe garbage is regularly dumped. Immediately, we’re thrust into a combative pas de deux, between a self-hating alcoholic doctor (Takashi Shimura) and the tubercular yakuza (Toshiro Mifune) he reluctantly treats for a gunshot wound. Every scene the two characters share ends up in a brawl; they loathe each other, but the doctor feels compelled to get the gangster to respect his TB and possibly survive it by living clean, and the hood demurs, lest his machismo be called into question. That is, until another yakuza gets out of prison and starts sniffing around for his ex-girlfriend, who now runs the doctor’s practice.

Both of the stars are fierce and fascinating (and omigod, so young), but while the chiseled and romantic Mifune seemed destined for stardom (this was the first of his seven collaborations with Kurosawa), Shimura dominates the film; it’s his character, after all, that fuels the plot, and Shimura brings a wary, self-knowing belligerence to the role that’s surprising (given how we’re used to seeing him, as the elder sage in “The Seven Samurai” or the dying office mouse in “Ikiru” — or the wizened scientist in “Godzilla”). Compare this moment to any American noir: when Shimura’s grizzled quack, who drinks antiseptic meant for patients, defiantly confronts the murderous gang leader and scoffs, “I’ve killed more people than you.” (There’s also language — the Japanese equivalents of shit, bitch, asshole, whore — you can’t hear in postwar films here.) “Drunken Angel” couldn’t comment on the ongoing American occupation, due to censorship rules that ended, with the occupation, four years later, as did so many subsequent films (Imamura’s “Pigs and Battleships,” say), leaving Kurosawa’s potent pessimism aimed unambiguously at his own culture, emerging guilt-ridden from the war and barely able to pull itself out of the sewer. The film’s Criterionization includes two documentaries about the making of the film and Kurosawa’s early career, and the obligatory commentary track by professional Nipponophile Donald Ritchie, reigning king of the Asian-cinema-scholarship monologue.

“Innocence” (Homevision) and “Drunken Angel” (Criterion) are now available on DVD.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.